The Senate may not appropriate funds for the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme, SURE-P, in the 2014 Budget, if ministers and heads of agencies involved in the programme fail to appear before it to defend how they have handled projects and funds allocated to the SURE-P in this year’s budget, the upper legislative chamber has indicated, warning that it would not condone actions of government appointees who refuse to appear before any of its committees to answer or defend issues relating to their offices.
Giving the warning at a briefing, Senate Deputy Leader and Chairman, Senate Ad-hoc Committee on SURE-P, Abdul Ningi, the committee held to state its position over non-appearance of Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen, at its session, yesterday.
“For us as a committee, we will not take it, we will not condone it. This is a show of lawlessness, and crass ignorance of the law. A minister of this government cannot refuse to appear before any committee of the National Assembly, talk less of the Senate committee that is saddled with the responsibility of unfolding a programme that is not clear to Nigerians,” Ningi said.
He described as inappropriate the way several government appointees had treated the National Assembly in like manner in the past, adding that by refusing to appear before the committee, the ministers were clearly showing the world and Nigerians in particular that President Goodluck Jonathan appointed the wrong people in government.
“Why we invite these ministers is to come and give a run-down of their activities and their challenges; but here we are, a country that does not regard the rule of law. These ministers continue in their wishful thinking that they can frustrate this committee.
“We will take every available legal instrument to deal with them and for some of us, when they cannot come and answer on a laudable programme such as SURE-P, then certainly, they are trying to undermine this government, they are trying to undermine the president and the National Assembly.
“Therefore, this will be the last time that we will condone any minister, whoever he is, and whatever is his portfolio and whatever is his connection that he will not appear before the Senate committee and without any reason for doing that,” he threatened.
Speaking further, Ningi said, “And this is a programme that a lot of people are asking questions and therefore they are making this programme shrouded in secrecy. And it is clear that a strong message be sent to the president and his ministers, otherwise among some of the things we may take, we can refuse to appropriate a single kobo to this programme but before we do that, there are available options that can be taken in making sure that any public officer who is required by a committee must appear.
“I will repeat this, this is no longer business as usual, people must be accountable, and they must be responsible for their actions. Any minister who therefore refuses to show his face, we will take necessary legal actions against him,” he added.